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January 17, 2007

Good news from the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. As lead researcher Dr. Anthony Atala has just reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology, human stem cells can be found in the amniotic fluid.

Stem cells are the “starter” cells that may become various mature cells of the body. Such cells from early embryos are often called “pluripotent” cells, because each one can grow into a variety of adult tissues. Perhaps some day such cells could be used to cure a variety of human illnesses, but harvesting the cells is a real problem, since it requires the destruction of embryos, a violation of the sanctity of human life.

Now comes news that stem cells nearly as powerful as embryonic ones can be found in amniotic fluid. This is the liquid cushion that surrounds babies in the womb. Dr. Atala and his colleagues have used them to make muscle, bone, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and liver cells in the laboratory. Claims Dr. Atala: “I feel these cells are pluripotent like human embryonic stem cells.”

If this research works out, and Dr. Atala cautions that any clinical applications lie several years in the future, it will make the destruction of human embryos unnecessary. Imagine, men and women of good faith, both liberals and conservatives, could agree to work together on this one, since this type of stem cell research is ethically completely acceptable.

Will this news make a difference in the divisive debate in Congress? Don’t hold your breath. Already, the House of Representatives has voted to overturn President Bush’s ban on public funding of destructive embryo research, with the Senate due to take up the measure soon.

Reuters News Report

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